As Canada inches its way back to normalcy, many employers are asking, “Where have all the workers gone?”
Intuitively, it doesn’t make sense that a high unemployment rate would coincide with a high job vacancy rate.
But that is where we stand with a jobless rate of 8.2 per cent (the highest since the major recession of 2008-2009) and a job vacancy rate of 4.1 per cent (up 100 basis points from pre-pandemic levels).
The hardest hit was the hospitality industry, with hotels, restaurants, bars and other associated businesses struggling to fill roughly 68,000 jobs, a vacancy rate of 7.4 per cent.
Construction tradespeople are also in high demand, with a vacancy rate of 5.8 per cent or approximately 58,000 unfilled jobs.
Economists point to a combination of pandemic-related factors, including enhanced government unemployment benefits discouraging people from going back to work; workers fearing being on the frontlines; lack of immigration; a general shift in attitudes toward service jobs and skilled trades; and numerous workers deciding to change fields or drop out of the workforce altogether.
This situation does not bode well for economic recovery.
Competition for workers is expected to put upward pressure on wages with a resultant increase in inflation.
Affected industries are increasingly looking at automation, which could ultimately reduce the availability of jobs.
People cannot be blamed for acting in their self-interest, whether for better employment stability, higher wages, personal safety, mental health or professional fulfillment.
The conditions and measures that created this untenable position will eventually fade. Still, the problem of worker shortages, although exacerbated by COVID-19, predates the pandemic and is unlikely to go away any time soon.
It’s not enough to have jobs available. Industry, governments, academic institutions and society, in general, will have to find ways to make those jobs attractive again, particularly to the next generation of workers.